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Writing Exercise by William Ferriter

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A Memorable Poem

What makes a poem memorable? Why do we remember some poems and not others? Qualities that memorable poems share, what are they?

To explore the mechanics of a memorable poem, and why it resonates in memory, we may revisit a few great poems, and ask what they have in common.

As a poem is both a printed work of art, as well as one that exists beyond the page, when spoken aloud, great memorable poems may resonate for a variety of reasons.

The mechanics of memorable poems often, but not always:

* resonate in the listener's ear when heard aloud

* use interesting words and phrases

* focus on human emotions

* surprise the reader with the unexpected

* use concrete language

Here are a two excerpts from well-known poems that share these qualities. From the Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats, the final four lines:

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Also, in the final four lines of Emily Dickinson's This World is not Conclusion, the following:

Much Gesture, from the Pulpit—
Strong Hallelujahs roll—
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul—

Assonance, consonance and rhyme resonate in both excerpts, and both poems use concrete language, surprise the reader, focus on human emotions, and employ charg'd language.

Here is Bill Ferriter's thoughtful writing exercise to guide you through the steps in creating your own memorable poem.

Writing a Memorable Poem

Now that you’ve explored the characteristics of memorable poems, it’s time to begin writing a poem of your own. We’ll use the image below—which shows two dirty, homeless boys alone on a street corner—as our prompt. You’ll want to see the image in color before you write to get a better sense for the conditions the boys are living in. After exploring the image carefully, work through the steps in the table below to write your own poem.
Homeless Boys


Writing a Memorable Poem

Questions for Consideration

Your Responses


Remember that many of the best poems are concrete. Instead of sharing complicated language, they appeal to the basic senses of their audiences.

Which senses come to mind when you look at this image? Which senses would the boys in the image wrestle with on a daily basis? Would their bodies hurt? Why? Would they be warm? Cold? What would they be listening for?

If you were standing on the same street, what would you hear? Smell? Feel? See?


Many of the best poems are unexpected, either communicating with audiences in a nontraditional way or sharing ideas that are startling. Is there anything surprising about this image? What impact does that have on you as a reader?

Many of the best poems are emotional, making viewers feel instead of simply think. Influential people know that when they can tap into powerful emotions like joy, anger, hilarity, shame, fear or pain, their ideas are more likely to be remembered.

Which emotion do you think is appropriate to try to get across in your poem about this image? Will that emotion resonate with readers? Why?

Many of the best poets use interesting words and phrases—or combinations of interesting words and phrases—to catch the attention of their readers.

What words and/or phrases come to mind when you look at this image? What words or phrases can be used to communicate the senses that this image reminds you of? The emotions? The surprising situation?

Remember to choose the most powerful words that come to mind! You might even need to get out the thesaurus to make better choices. Circle the words and/or phrases in your list that you feel communicate the strongest emotions, senses and feelings.





Many of the best poets pay careful attention to how their poems sound when read out loud. They use rhythm and rhyme or word combinations that are interesting to the ear.

Look at this list of poetry techniques and decide which strategies you’d like to try to include in your poem. Your choice should be made based on the emotions and feelings that you’re trying to communicate and the kinds of words in that you’ve already brainstormed.

Remember that you don’t have to use every strategy in this list, but you can use more than one if it works in your poem. Also remember that the strategies that you use might be different from the strategies used by your peers.

What’s important is finding strategies that work for the emotions, feelings, senses and/or ideas that you’re trying to communicate to readers.



*        Repetition: Poets often repeat powerful word and phrases throughout the course of their poem. This can add rhythm or draw the reader’s attention to important ideas.

*       Alliteration: Poets often repeat consonant sounds at the beginning of words: “To watch tadpoles and catch CRayfish
in the CReek.”

*        Assonance: Poets often repeat vowel sounds in lines of their poems: gIfts to skInny-dIppers from the cow’s pond down In the pasture.

*       Consonance: Poets often repeat consonant sounds in lines of their poems: “But pleaSe don’t bother with the flieS,
or So Says the laZy horSe in the corner.”

*        Rhyme: Poets often incorporate rhyming words into their poems. Rhyming can be incorporated informally within a line or as a part of a pattern throughout an entire piece: “Fingers l-ICK, t-ICK-ling an electr-IC crescendo.”

*       Onomatopoeia: Poets often use words that sound like what they mean: The BUZZ of the bees leaves me buckled on my knees.


Now it’s time to write a first draft of your poem. While drafting, don’t spend too much time thinking! Instead, concentrate on getting your ideas down on paper.

While it’s important to remember that you’re trying to communicate unexpected feelings, senses and emotions to your readers, it’s also important to remember that you can always revise and edit your work.

When you’re finished with your first draft, circle the words and phrases that you’re proudest of. Which words and phrases will catch the attention of your readers? Why?

Then, underline words and phrases that seem unnecessary—either because they don’t communicate any new information to the reader or because they’re uninteresting.


Remember that because poems are typically short pieces, EVERY choice that you make is super important! Changing one or two words to add consonance, assonance, alliteration, repetition, rhyme or onomatopoeia can make a huge difference in the overall quality of your final product.

Also remember to spend time reading your poem out loud while creating your final copy. Sound is an important element of quality poetry, so your piece has to read well orally in order to be completely appreciated.

Adapted from original work created by Bill Ferriter.
The Tempered Radical
Digitally Speaking

Please write a poem of 30 lines or fewer, and submit it for consideration on the APW Forum/Guests' Pages. Email subject line: Memorable Poem.


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